Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Imperial Stout Tasting 2012

So, a bunch of guys get together to drink beer. No, the beer is not there to support the pursuit of yelling at the TV over a footy match, or even the burning of meat on a bbq. This time, the beer is the focal point, and is drunk out of very small glasses. But I guess quantity is not so important when the beers you are tasting are up to 18%. Instead of yelling, the comparing of notes on the beers we are tasting, and discussions on such topics as the difference between nerds and geeks. Instead of non-descript 'meat' thrown on a barbie, some smoked meat and aged cheddar, with chips, potato bake, and cupcakes the closest to gut fillers to help us through. Help we would have needed more if we had gone through all the beers available.

But with most people driving, we only made it half way, which means I already have enough beers to do another imperial stout tasting...

Anyway, onto the beers for this years tasting. Trying to make sure there were beers different to what we had last year, am happy to say there was the chance to taste 2 we had last year thanks to Miro bringing these with him, and was surprised at the difference we found from them.

Still, from the beginning, this was a good opportunity to have a vertical tasting of the Moo Brew Barrel Aged Vintage Imperial Stout that my brother and I have been collecting over the past few years. Not having any of the 2008 that was the first (and nostalgically, the best) we ever tried, bottle number 1025 of the '09, '10 and new '11 vintages were drunk against each other.
As I remembered, the '09 was quite overcarbonated, not letting the texture and flavours of the beers to really get good surface contact on the tongue and giving a bit of a limestone/mineral flavour that I get from overcarbonated beers. Still, Stass picked up on some butterscotch which may be a sign of diacetyl. I could get a little caramel, but was mainly getting a sort of vinegar or balsamic sort of flavour, maybe showing this vintage had reached it's age limit.
The '10 was a much better example of this style with some dark fruit aromas and taste, showing a bit of the pinot noir barrels it had been aged in, but a bit of syrup in malt taste and texture to really let the flavour of the beer coat your tongue at a lower carbonation. There is also quite a bit of driness at the back. Unusually, was getting a little bit of a coconut aroma along with the fairly normal spirit smell that can come from these type of beers.
Even though it is the youngest of the beers, the '11 is the most mellow, and the thing I pick up on first. Being texture based in my personal taste, I really enjoy the creaminess that comes across the midpalate, before the driness of the '10 returns at the back, and really ramps up the heat of the alcohol in aftertaste. With some age, I could see this bitter driness mellowing out to improve the profile overall and work better with the front half of the beer. I look forward to trying this beer again over the next few years to see if my thoughts run true. Still,  think there was agreement from everyone that the '11 was the best of the vintages.

Having done the vertical tasting, it was time to go back to the beginning, presumably the closest to the original Russian Imperial Stout, with Courage's example. With differing appraisals on this beer before tasting it myself I was a little apprehensive. Still, happy to say it has a pleasant profile, with some caramel overtones in aroma, being quite smooth on the tongue, but also prominent in alcohol heat and back with some roastedness. A pretty good example, and impressive if this is close to the original recipe for the first of the style.

The St Ambroise we found had similar malt character to our own homebrew Imperial Stout, Very sweet with a viscous/tar look as it was poured. This one is burning my tongue a bit, even though the beer is only 9.2%. There is also a bitterness at the back which may not help me with this burning sensation.

De Molen's Rasputin is one of the beers we had last year, and was surprised that upon tasting it, could think of the differences between. This year's Rasputin happens to have been aged for 3 years, and have to say it has done it well if that is the only difference. Last year was a 250ml bottle, compared with the 750ml of this year. Maybe from this I definitely pick up on some carbonation differences, with this one being much smoother in texture than I recall from last year. This allows me to pick up a lot more from the beer, include caramel aroma, and with the unusual taste of a combination of medicinal and herbal notes that create a sort of fennel licorice for me. There is a rise in warmth from the midpalate from the alcohol that is very smooth and not spikey at all. There appears to be very little carbonation, but this does not need it, as the flavours and textures work really well and complex enough without heavy carbonation hiding it. While it is written on the bottle that it can be stored for up to 25 years, I am not sure how much better it would get after the 3 years it had been aged for.

Speaking of aged beers, finally, I was able to crack my 2008 Rogue XS Imperial Stout that I have been holding onto for so long, even though the ceramic bottle makes it one of the best looking packages I have ever seen for a beer. At 11% and 88 IBU, it certainly could have used the 4 years it has been in the bottle for. I personally liked the chocolate in aroma and up front flavour, along with some caramel leading the warming alcohol, with the bitterness helping to clean up the palate afterwards. This bitterness would be a bit too strong for me if the beer was younger, but at this age, it just gave me a great typical imperial stout, which was great to contracts against the unusual flavours I was getting from the Rasputin. Having these two together, along with just being able to taste a number of imperial stouts together, just showed that something that can be quite a simple style, can still have nuances and quirks to set them apart and get something different from each example.

With many of us starting to fatigue a bit, we decided to finish on the other beer Miro brought around (he also brought the Rasputin), and one we had last year, a Peche Mortel. The coffee infusion gives it an espresso driness, but with a good malt background to help fill out the palate so it doesn't overpower. The funny thing on this one was that early on, with the flavours so full, I could hardly taste any alcohol, but this changed as it warmed up.

Getting onto the cupcakes, I saw I had some leftover Rogue, and the comparison between the two was great. I have been able to continue enjoying this combo a couple more times since the weekend.

So another great tasting with the boys. Thanks to all that turned up to help be try out all those stouts. Looking forward to the next one, where I might be able to finally taste all the imperial stouts I have. At least they keep aging...



PS: speaking of imperial stouts, Stass and I put our first all grain brew on the day after the tasting, and happy to hear today she is fermenting along nicely.

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